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Bruchey defends Wal-Mart Supercenter

April 20, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

FUNKSTOWN - A combative Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II sparred Thursday evening with anxious Funkstown residents who said a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter will further jam their already-clogged roads.

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The 208,720-square-foot store would be built off Edgewood Drive between Twigg Cycles and Funkstown.

About 35 people attended a special Funkstown Town Council meeting to press Bruchey and other Hagerstown officials on what steps they will take to ensure that the development causes as little impact as possible.

The meeting was called to discuss a traffic study that shows traffic in the town could double at times as a result of the development.

That discussion turned heated at times. At one point, a Poplar Street resident stood and scolded Bruchey about the thousands of cars that would plow through town on their back and forth from the Wal-Mart.

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"They're from outside our community. They don't belong here," she said.

Responded Bruchey: "This development is very important. You don't want it. I understand that. But I've got taxpayers in the City of Hagerstown."

Another Funkstown-area resident, Lynden Moser of Bethlehem Court, accused "money-grubbing buzzards" in local government of running roughshod over citizens' concerns.

"I'd like to take you out to the dueling range, Mr. Bruchey," he said.

Hagerstown officials tried to reassure Funkstown residents that they will seek concessions from the developer, Wyatt Development Co.

City Engineer Bruce Johnston said the city returned the traffic study to Wyatt for revisions. He said the study failed to adequately address concerns about the impact on some crowded intersections in and around Funkstown.

Johnston said the city also can examine residents' suggestions, such as a requirement that Wyatt build a sidewalk along Edgewood Drive from the development to Funkstown.

But Wyatt owns the property and the land already has been changed to commercial zoning, so Johnston said prohibiting the project is unrealistic as long as the company meets legal requirements.

"This Wal-Mart is likely to happen," he said. "I can't tell them they can't build here. I just don't have the authority to do that

"Life's not going to be the same. There's going to be traffic. What we need to talk to you about is what we can do about it."

Several Funkstown residents did not like the sound of that.

"All this sounds so bad," said Baltimore Street resident Jeff Cooper said. "We're just going to get smothered."

Other residents questioned the wisdom of allowing development so close to Funkstown Elementary School, which is off Hebb Road on the other side of the property.

"You are putting people and their families and their children at risk," said Beaver Creek Road resident Pam Newhouse.

Bruchey said large-scale development presents a dilemma for resident on both sides of the Hagerstown-Funkstown border.

But he said he has a responsibility to Hagerstown residents to enlarge the city's commercial base in order to keep tax rates down for city taxpayers. He said it comes down to flipping a coin: Heads, officials allow the project and try to mitigate the impact.

"And I've got a two-headed coin in my pocket," he said.

Jeff Nearchos, who lives on Bethlehem Court just outside of Funkstown, challenged that notion.

"Just because it increases the tax base does not mean it's a good project," he said.

Several residents asked for requirements that Johnston said are not possible.

One suggestion was to require the developer to build an access road into the Wal-Mart from Dual Highway rather than Edgewood Drive. Johnston said it is possible to require an entrance from Dual Highway as an addition, but not as a substitute.

Another resident suggested the developer pay for a long-discussed bypass to divert traffic around Funkstown.

Johnston said such a project, which remains in long-term plans but has no funding, would cost $12 million to $15 million. That is too great a price tag for a single developer to incur, he said.

Besides, Johnston said, traffic problems in Funkstown arise from many projects over the last 15 years. He said those projects include Prime Outlets and development on Robinwood Drive, which are in the county.

"The problem is incremental development," he said.

Bruchey promised Funkstown residents that city officials will not ignore their concerns.

"Believe it or not, we are good neighbors here," he said.

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